Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum

Find that Phrase
Mike Quigley
US History
Time Frame:
Four to five class periods
US History Since 1945

Grade Levels:
9, 10, 11, 12

Classroom/Homework Activity to be performed:
  • During the session about the “Iron Curtain” Speech, it occurred to me how many phrases such as Iron Curtain, New Deal, the Big Stick or silent majority we use in the course of a school year. Where do these phrases come from? What do they remain with us all these years later?
  • With that in mind, I came up with a plan to pair the students or put them in threes depending upon class size, research the origin of the phrase and develop a way to visually illustrate the notion.
  • The lesson would involve cooperative learning, research skills and the use of technology.

  • This will help to illustrate where these phrases come from, when they were first used and why they became popular and remain with us today.

District, state, or national performance and knowledge standards/goals/skills met:

  • Development of student research skills
  • Using technology
  • Appealing to a variety of learning styles
  • Finding the origins of various historical terms

Secondary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed:
  • The American Pageant- their textbook
  • Landmark Documents in American History, a disc containing a multitude of documents.

Primary materials (book, article, video documentary, etc.) needed:
  • Any number of primary sources would be included. For example, the term New Frontier comes from John F. Kennedy’s acceptance speech. They would need to find and reference that.
  • Another would be Sir Winston Churchill’s Iron Curtain speech

Full description of activity or assignment.
  • Divide the students into groups of two or three
  • Assign each group one of the following phrases: arsenal of democracy, Big Stick,  Camelot, Corrupt Bargain, Evil Empire, New Deal, New Frontier, Great Society, Iron Curtain, Military-industrial complex, manifest destiny, and silent majority.
  • Have the students research the phrase, find the document where it originally appeared, discuss its origin or what the people who first used it were trying to accomplish/say. This research would be done in the library and would use any online sources save Wikipedia.
  • The students will illustrate the phrase either through Power Points or some other illustration. This will assist the visual learners
  • After having some time to complete this both in class and for homework, the students will present their findings in five to seven minute segments explaining the phrase, where it came from, how and why it was used, and showing their illustration.
  • My role would be to assist them in their research of the topic and direct them to a more effective presentation.

Full explanation of the assessment method and/or scoring guide:
  • This would be a 50-75 point assignment.
  • The students would be graded on their organization, subject knowledge, graphics and illustrations, mechanics, eye contact, and elocution.